ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish tried to tamp down speculation at an industry conference Wednesday that the death of its largest individual shareholder Sumner Redstone would lead to asset sales, adding that while Redstone’s influence was great, it won't change the company's current path.
Redstone died on Aug. 11. The former Viacom chairman was the controlling shareholder of National Amusements Inc., which holds more than 80% of the voting rights of ViacomCBS. While he was alive, Redstone repeatedly blocked the potential sale of assets -- most notably a move by former CEO Philippe Dauman to sell off an interest in movie studio Paramount Pictures. Upon his death, some have speculated that his daughter, ViacomCBS vice chair Shari Redstone, would be more open to selling off assets or even the entire company.
At the virtual Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2020 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference on Wednesday, Bakish tried to put an end to any rumors that the ViacomCBS was readying itself for a fire sale.
“Sumner was a true industry titan,” Bakish said at the virtual conference. “His influence in the entertainment landscape cannot be overstated and his guidance and leadership certainly have left a permanent stamp on our company and helped shape who ViacomCBS is today. But as it relates to M&A or asset sales, the fact is nothing changes as a result of his passing.”
Bakis said ViacomCBS remains committed to unlocking the value of its recombination, which was completed back in 2019 and added that there is more to be extracted.
“In regard to asset sales, our business strategy is focused on three interrelated businesses -- studios, networks and streaming," Bakish said. "If an asset falls into one of those three categories, we view it as core to our business. If it doesn't, we view it as a candidate for disposition.”
He noted that ViacomCBS already has identified two assets for sale -- CBS’s Black Rock headquarters in Manhattan and publisher Simon & Schuster.
“The good news is we’ve seen significant interest in both assets,” Bakish continued. “And while we’re not doing anything at the moment, we do look forward to proceeding with those sale processes as market conditions allow.”
Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.
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